Chancellor Pagano’s April town hall focuses on looming budget concerns

The topic of discussion of Chancellor Mark Pagano’s monthly town hall meeting held on April 15 in William W. Philip Hall was specifically about the university’s budget and the concerns that come with it.

“We did know this was coming, [and] now it’s here” Pagano said.

Since Pagano started as UW Tacoma’s chancellor in 2015, the university has faced struggles in balancing the amount of money spent on growth and expansion without increasing tuition prices. With limited funding from the state, UWT walks a thin margin with respect to possible growth. This includes how many staff members they can hire each year, as well as renovation and expansion of the campus. The problem of the budget has become unbalanced and has been looming for the past five years.  

Unlike UW Seattle, whose revenue sources are more expansive, UWT is confined to revenue brought in from state appropriations, which account for about one-third of the budget, with tuition covering the remaining two-thirds. In addition, the state has begun to approve 3–4 percent salary increases at UWT, but did not provide the additional funding to compensate for the raises.

“We don’t have clinical enterprise, we don’t have a two-billion-dollar research machine here, so [state funding and tuition] is essentially what we have to work with on our campus,” Pagano said. “And if those things aren’t robust, then that’s all we have.”

Pagano explained that because of the university’s work to “right-size” the budget, they successfully avoided the budget “crossing over” during the 2018–2019 school year. This means that the amount of money that UWT has coming in is lower than the amount being spent, causing the university to begin operating in a deficit. The projection for their work in right-sizing the budget has UWT turning over more of a profit. But with enrollment being less than anticipated for the 2018–2019 school year, the budget has begun to suffer. The margin between revenue and expenses are now projected to be dangerously close during the 2019–2020 academic year.

“We have to make a plan,” Pagano said.

Retention is an important part of the school’s financial stability, meaning the students who enroll at UWT remain until their 4-year degree is completed. Pagano explained the dramatic financial impact that can take place if a student transfers to a different school. Working on ways to improve retention is a part of the plan Pagano shared to stabilize UWT’s budget.

“It’s [not just] our student enrollment, it’s the retention,” Pagano said. “So we [have to] look at this number every quarter, and there’s a lot of opportunity for us on this campus to improve the retention of the students that come here in the fall and we keep them here in the spring and the winter… it’s great to work on that retention because we actually spend more money recruiting students than we do once they’re here.”

Another piece of the puzzle is the importance of hiring faculty to cover the incoming demand of students. This means slowing down new hires overall, and only approving ones that were being hired to meet unmatched demand in a particular subject area.

“We [have to] work more closely to match our new faculty hires with where the new enrollment is coming in, because by [the 2016–2017 school year], I realized that we were sending some students away in Information Technology and Computer Engineering … and not adding faculty there, Pagano said. “We were adding faculty in places where we maybe didn’t have the demand.”

Pagano closed out his presentation with a detailed explanation of how he plans to pull UWT out of its financial rut. He explained maintaining the strategies of increasing retention, being more careful with new hires, petitioning for more state funding and his own personal commitment to work harder on reserving a piece of the budget annually for future expansions.

“We’ll work collaboratively, we’ll build strong community support, and we’ll move everything forward,” Pagano said.